Sunday, March 16, 2014
When I was young and struggling, I owned a car that was struggling too. A faded red VW Beetle, a car with smiling curves and winking headlights that despite its rust, radiated cheer and light. A car that wasn't really meant to hold up to a Midwestern winter.
Every winter night I parked it at the top of a sloping snowy hill, and hurried down to the house I shared with 4 roommates. And every morning I got up and ran four or five miles through the icy streets, getting in my workout, knowing if my hair froze at the edge of my hat, my car would not start. Again.
I sometimes think I started running that year just so I could find a way to stay warm.
I would come home, shower, change clothes. Then head up the hill, where I sprayed the door lock with de-icer, lowered the brake, and jumpstarted the battery by letting it roll downhill and catch. My battery, dead every morning, yet brought back to life by gravity every day.
I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say my roommates and I did this for perhaps 40 days in a row one winter. I couldn't afford a new car. I couldn't afford a new battery. I couldn't afford to live somewhere with a garage. And so, our cars froze.
This winter, when it seems to have snowed on the East Coast every other day for months, I am reminded of that winter in Illinois. I am reminded of how cold I was growing up there, how my eyelashes crystallized if I dared to cry, how my knees looked blue when I pulled off my tights, how I would walk home from ice skating at the pond without being able to feel my toes.
I am reminded of the snow drifts so high and so heavy, you couldn't open your front door. My father had to jump out a second floor window to get out to shovel snow.
And, most importantly, I am reminded how my roommates helped me with my car, teaching me that technique. And I remember that when I was out jogging in the worst weather, I would spend half my time pushing cars out of snow drifts when they got stuck.
You can hate winter all you want. But you can't ignore it. Like a toddler throwing a tantrum, it forces you to pay attention. Deal with me, it says. It will build character. It will help you help each other.